Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice
    Book Description:

    In this compelling history of progressive evangelicalism, Brantley Gasaway examines a dynamic though often overlooked movement within American Christianity today. Gasaway focuses on left-leaning groups, such as Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action, that emerged in the early 1970s, prior to the rise of the more visible Religious Right. He identifies the distinctive "public theology"--a set of biblical interpretations regarding the responsibility of Christians to promote social justice--that has animated progressive evangelicals' activism and bound together their unusual combination of political positions.The book analyzes how prominent leaders, including Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, responded to key political and social issues over the past four decades. Progressive evangelicals combated racial inequalities, endorsed feminism, promoted economic justice, and denounced American nationalism and militarism. At the same time, most leaders opposed abortion and refused to affirm homosexual behavior, even as they defended gay civil rights. Gasaway demonstrates that, while progressive evangelicals have been caught in the crossfire of partisan conflicts and public debates over the role of religion in politics, they have offered a significant alternative to both the Religious Right and the political left.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1774-9
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    As the nearly 1,000 participants in Sojourners’ “Peace Pentecost 1985” gathering marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., they punctuated their singing of “This Little Light of Mine” with stops for prayer. Eventually the procession of progressive evangelicals and their ecumenical allies arrived across from the White House and prepared to protest. “Let your light shine around this city!” exhorted Jim Wallis, head of the progressive evangelical organization Sojourners. Participants divided into separate groups and marched to six sites that symbolized their idiosyncratic set of political priorities. Outside the White House, demonstrators prayed for “an end to the arms race...

  5. 1. The Rise of the Contemporary Progressive Evangelical Movement
    (pp. 23-52)

    Over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, a small group of evangelical leaders gathered at the hotel of Chicago’s Wabash Avenue YMCA for an unconventional workshop. Their goal—drafting a statement that declared Christians’ responsibilities for social action and reform—distinguished participants as a self-conscious minority within the broader evangelical movement. They rejected the prevailing view that Christians should primarily address people’s eternal spiritual welfare and social problems through evangelism. Instead, these evangelicals believed that faithfulness to the Bible requires equal concern for people’s temporal needs and the pursuit of justice through social and political activism. At the end of the...

  6. 2. A Public Theology of Community
    (pp. 53-74)

    In the early 1990s, Sojourners’ Jim Wallis described the state of his adopted hometown of Washington, D.C., in Dickensian terms. In his own “tale of two cities,” Wallis emphasized the dissonant realities within the nation’s capital. Affluent white politicians fought for power as black residents of the city fought poverty. Political lobbyists hosted dinners of caviar and champagne while homeless people dug through trash for food. Commuters from the comfortable suburbs worked in the stately city center as low-income families lived in the surrounding dilapidated neighborhoods. America’s power elites governed from imposing offices, but residents of the impoverished District of...

  7. 3. Racism: “AMERICA’S ORIGINAL SIN”
    (pp. 75-100)

    On the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling inBrown v. Board of Education, Sojournerspublished a commentary titled “Still Separate, Still Unequal.” The promise of racial equality remained unfulfilled,Sojournersbelieved. In fact, “racism embedded in our society” resulted in “structural violence” that kept poor African Americans just as segregated and even more endangered than fifty years before. Discriminatory zoning laws, lack of affordable housing, and underfunded schools institutionalized patterns of segregation and poverty. “Most of us who don’t suffer from the violence of our structures don’t see it,” the author, David Hilfiker, claimed. “We live the...

  8. 4. Trials and Triumphs of Biblical Feminism
    (pp. 101-127)

    Few statements would have shocked evangelicals more in the early 1970s than thePost-American’s bold claim. “Jesus was a feminist, and a very radical one,” the new progressive evangelical magazine declared in 1972. “Can his followers attempt to be anything less?” Behind the leadership of Jim Wallis, the Post-Americans were seeking to convince fellow evangelicals that those “who live by the values and ethical priorities of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom” must “be active in rejecting the corrupt values of our culture.” Based upon the example of Jesus, they argued, such corrupt values included patriarchal attitudes and actions. Because “it...

  9. 5. The Agony of Abortion
    (pp. 128-162)

    Joyce Hollyday articulated the frustration that many progressive evangelicals felt in the early 1980s. “Unfortunately, the secular feminist movement has used abortion as a test of commitment to women’s equality,” the associate editor ofSojournerscomplained. “Access to abortion is considered part of ‘reproductive rights.’” As self-identified pro-life feminists, however, most leaders of the progressive evangelical movement disputed these premises. Yet they faced a daunting task, for almost all defenders and detractors of feminism regarded the feminist movement as the guardian of abortion rights. In 1973 the Supreme Court had ruled inRoe v. Wadethat women have a constitutionally...

  10. 6. A Civil Right but Religious Wrong?
    (pp. 163-199)

    Although progressive evangelicals’ harshest opposition usually came from the Religious Right, in early 2011 Jim Wallis and Sojourners found themselves under fire from religious and political liberals. Sojourners had refused to carry a video advertisement on the group’s website from Believe Out Loud, an advocacy group dedicated to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Christians within churches. In the video, a lesbian couple and their son enter a church but encounter silent hostility from the congregation. Yet the minister at the front of the sanctuary greets them warmly. “Welcome—everyone,” he says before helping seat the...

  11. 7. The Crusade against Poverty
    (pp. 200-234)

    George W. Bush may have seemed an unlikely ally in progressive evangelicals’ campaigns for economic justice, but Sojourners’ Jim Wallis and Evangelicals for Social Action president Ron Sider welcomed the possibility. Within a week of the December 2000 Supreme Court decision that secured his presidential victory, Bush invited Wallis and Sider to join a small group of religious leaders to discuss the role of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in providing federally funded social services. At the meeting, the Republican president-elect impressed both progressive evangelical leaders with his commitment to combating poverty through these “faith-based initiatives.” Sider, who had voted for Bush...

  12. 8. Make Peace, Not War
    (pp. 235-269)

    “Vietnam. The word still sparks deep emotion within me,” Sojourners’ Jim Wallis wrote in 1980. Five years after the Vietnam War ended, Wallis recounted how it became the prism through which progressive evangelicals viewed American foreign policy. “The war was a tutor to me and many others,” he explained, for the United States’ policies and practices seemingly laid bare the country’s hypocrisy and imperialism. “Many were convinced we were fighting against communism,” but “this was not a war for democracy or freedom or self-determination,” Wallis claimed. Instead, the war unmasked “a large and powerful nation trying to impose its control...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 270-278)

    Through the first five years of President Barack Obama’s presidency, progressive evangelical leaders enjoyed more attention from politicians and the public than they ever had before. While the Religious Right remained a strong political force, evangelical progressives had raised the profile of their own movement as a visible alternative. Their distinctive public theology remained the inspiration for leaders’ vigorous participation in political debates as they addressed a wide range of issues in order to advance their comprehensive vision of social justice and the common good. In the process, progressive evangelicals continued to take positions that alternately clashed with the Religious...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 279-310)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-318)
  16. Index
    (pp. 319-324)